Art & Development, Values

Criticism v. opinions

I really wish I was in NYC right now to see Charles Ray’s show at Matthew Marks. It sounds amazing.

I also appreciate Jerry Saltz’s write-up of Ray’s installations:

all brilliant examples of post-minimalist/conceptual sculpture, each created in the late eighties and new to New York, rattled my perceptions, jangled my faculties, and made me go “Wow!” … Ray’s sculptures, part of a long tradition of minimal installations, are also forerunners to much of the theatrical Festivalism of recent times (e.g., Maurizio Cattelan and Olafur Eliasson). Each piece is nearly invisible and formally economical. Yet each is outrageously labor-intensive….

–Jerry Saltz, “Dude, You’ve Gotta See This”, New York Magazine, June 7, 2009

Brilliant! I’m impressed with how concisely Saltz formally and historically situates the art, and conveys his viewing experience, enthusiasm and rationales.

And, I love that Saltz seems to be taking a stand. The public (including artists!) can harbor so much skepticism (if not outright antipathy) towards postmodern/minimalist/post-minimalist art, it’s nice to see a critic try to bridge the gap, and say, Yes, this is art, even if it looks like nearly nothing. And it’s hard work to make this kind of art.

He goes on to tell the viewer You have to look closely and think before you get your rewards.

All three of Ray’s pieces … are more than Merry Prankster sight gags. Each makes you ultra-aware of spaces outside the one you’re in, of rooms above and below you, the things that make these rooms and effects possible, and how your own body relates to all of this. They put you back in the realm of the unknown, of double vision and oddity.


Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for great art and arts coverage is sometimes marred by readers’ comment boards.

It takes a lot of time, work, consideration and nerve to make art and to write art criticism. So when it’s met with knee-jerk reactions from people who are convinced they could do the job better, I’m reminded of drunken ringside smack-talkers. The reality is that few people have the heart to wake up for 6am runs, much less step into the ring–not just once for their fantasy Rocky moment, but again and again, in spite of the anxiety, exhaustion, injuries and the constant availability of easier paths in life.

Likewise, in art, anyone can make an expressive gesture, but few have the nerve to dedicate themselves to a lifelong creative pursuit.

And in art criticism, any yahoo can have an opinion, but few have the patience and skill to form thoughts into well-reasoned, timely essays.

Recently, I’ve heard from artists who believed that MFA programs are scams, grad students are mindless sheep, and if they leave with anything, it’s how to regurgitate trends. Attacking participants in order to critique a system is lazy and immature. I attribute this attitude to learned helplessness and inadequate self-actualization. When you see the art world as a separate entity from yourself–rather than a group of people that includes yourself, in which you participate and shape with your words and actions–you cease to be accountable for it. You’re free to bash it, thereby legitimizing your own disappointments.

As one of my esteemed professors liked to ask,

What’s at stake?

When it comes to offering knee-jerk reactions, I’d like to see more armchair critics toe the line. You think you can make better art? Write better criticism?

Game on.

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